The reasoning was simple enough. Republicans are masters at collecting dollars from corporations that agree with the GOP’s low taxes/low regulations mantra. Labor unions, the other subset the 5-4 court majority said could give unrestricted campaign cash, usually don’t have as much to give to their allies in the Democratic Party.
The 2010 midyear congressional elections stuck to the script as Republicans retook the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and narrowed the Democrats’ advantage in the U.S. Senate. The Republican success was due in no small part to a tsunami of campaign spending allowed under Citizens United and other loosened campaign finance rules. According to research by the Center for Responsive Politics, Republican-friendly PACs spent $1.24 for every $1 spent by Democratic-friendly ones.
Something strange happened on the way to the Republican presidential primaries, however. Oh, the money is still flowing to conservative Republicans. It’s just that a picture is emerging of the unintended consequences of this Wild West of campaign financing.
Mitt Romney, the Republicans’ presumed frontrunner, has been challenged at key points in the first two months of voting. Every time he’s attempted to put the nomination out of reach, a challenger has emerged. Many factors put wind in the sails of Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum — displeasure with Romney’s moderate track record, conservative angst that the Republican establishment will overlook their concerns, and so on.
Alternative candidates without money to flood the airwaves are usually left to whither and blow away, and that’s where the nation’s freed-up campaign-finances rules come into play.
Sheldon Adelson, who controls a Las Vegas casino empire, has directed $11 million toward Gingrich’s run for president. That cash allowed the former speaker of the U.S. House to fend off attacks by Romney and to do some attacking of his own. Adelson recently told Forbes magazine he’s prepared to go as high as $100 million to keep Gingrich in the race.
In the Santorum camp, a trio of wealthy donors is propping up the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, though Foster Friess, William J. Doré and John Templeton are not yet in the same ballpark, giving-wise, as Adelson. Still, six- and seven-figure contributions from Friess, a Wyoming investor, Doré, a Texas businessman, and Templeton, a retired doctor, helped Santorum at a crucial time for the presidential candidate.
It’s becoming clear that the super-wealthy have the means and the clearance to give, give, give to their favorite candidates and their allied Super PACs. We suspect some of Citizens United’s cheerleaders might be realizing that a few well-heeled Americans might do the same for President Barack Obama.
Bless casino tycoon Adelson for coming clean. “I’m against very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections,” he told Forbes. “But as long as it’s doable, I’m going to do it.”
Is it impossible to imagine a General Election campaign where perhaps a hundred or so wealthy contributors inject most of the money into presidential campaigning? It’s hard to see how that is good for a democracy of 311 million citizens.